You hear them mentioned in the news all the time, and they seem to be an important part of our public policy apparatus. But what are think thanks, exactly? Jules Suzdaltsev has the answers in today's Seeker Daily dispatch.
Well, a lot of people don't know this, but think tanks refer to an array of nutrient vats kept in underground laboratories beneath Capitol Hill. Inside those vats, the cybernetically preserved brains of 19th-century lawmakers float -- oops, wait a second. Wrong notes. Here we go:
A think tank is basically a group of experts and academics who conduct research and advocate for particular approaches to public policy. They're often referred to as "universities without students" in that the researchers function as scholars who never have to bother with the tiresome tradition of classes.
As with universities, most think tanks have some sort of general ideological bent -- either to the left or the right -- but are tasked with providing legitimate, evidence-based research. Think tanks issue official studies and reports that inform public policy, and deploy expert consultants to work with lawmakers on particular initiatives. Lawmakers rely on think tanks to provide them with the in-depth analysis they need to inform their decisions.
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That's the ideal, anyway. In the moneyed world of politics, however, things don't always function as designed. Because think tank are often funded by wealthy sponsors -- both individuals and corporations -- their objectivity can be called into question.
A recent investigative report in The New York Times found that think tanks like the Brookings Institution regularly consult with wealthy donors before completing studies and releasing their findings. Uncovered documents suggest that many think tanks are actively pushing corporate agendas and blurring the line between research and lobbying. It's a sobering article -- well worth a read.
Check out Jules report for more details and some interesting revelations about the origins of the think tank. Or click on over to Jules' earlier report on the influence of Wall Street.
-- Glenn McDonald
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The New York Times: How Think Tanks Amplify Corporate America's Influence
Forbes: How the Heritage Foundation, a Conservative Think Tank, Promoted the Individual Mandate
Politifact: Obama Says Heritage Foundation is Source of Health Exchange Idea